All day long, you’ve been looking forward to seeing your partner. You’re excited to spend some quality time with your favorite person, but as soon as you both settle in at home, you feel your eyelids get heavy, and the urge to drift off becomes difficult to resist.
It can be a confusing feeling that leaves you wondering: Why do I get so sleepy around my partner? Does it mean anything? Is it a sign that I’m not excited with my partner, or that the relationship is going stale?
“As a licensed therapist, I can tell you that the good news is that feeling tired around your partner is fairly common, and it is usually not a sign of a bad relationship or other issue,” says NOCD therapist April Kilduff, LPCC, LCPC, LMHC.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the reasons that you might get sleepy around your partner, and what you can do if your worries are reaching a level that is making it hard to move forward in your relationship.
Why do I get sleepy around my partner?
While you might be worried about your sleepiness around your partner—shouldn’t you feel more excited and energized around them?—it’s probably not only something you don’t need to worry about, and it can even be a good sign.
For example, a likely reason that you might want to snooze when you’re around your partner is a simple and positive one: they make you feel safe and calm. “There’s typically a degree of comfort with a partner,” explains Kilduff. “So if you’re a little bit tired or it’s the end of the day, there’s a certain element of safety that could make it easy to feel sleepy around your partner.” In many cases, your relaxed and cozy state could actually be a sign that your relationship is deepening, not getting stagnant.
The explanation might even be in your biology. Studies have found that people in relationships tend to have higher levels of the hormone oxytocin than those who are single. This hormone, which is sometimes referred to as the “bonding” or “love” hormone, is important for building connections between human beings. Our brains naturally release more oxytocin after being touched, or through positive interactions with others. So it’s no surprise that people in good relationships tend to have higher levels. Oxytocin is also thought to alleviate stress and promote calmness. As a result, this may translate to feeling more relaxed and even sleepy when you’re with Your Person versus when you are alone.
There’s even research showing that sleep in general is better with a partner, which might play a factor. For example, a study at the University of Arizona found that adults who shared their bed with a partner or spouse reported better quality sleep than those who slept alone.
It could even be something in your partner’s scent that lulls you to bed. Yes, really! There’s evidence that being exposed to your partner’s scent might help you sleep better than nights spent without the scent.
Finally, your sleepiness around your partner could be a matter of relationship dynamics, or the effects of an established routine. For example, if you and your partner usually wind down and de-stress when you’re together, you might associate your quality time with rest and relaxation. It could even be as simple as the fact that you mostly tend to spend time with your partner at the end of a long workday, which would naturally coincide with your circadian rhythms—the internal body clock that dictates your sleep cycle.
Still worried about your propensity to nod off around your loved one? There are some other possible explanations.
What to know about relationship OCD
While there are plenty of potential explanations for feeling sleepy around your partner that don’t necessarily indicate that there’s something wrong, you might still have a hard time moving forward.
Sure, you might be concerned that your relationship is getting less stimulating, especially if you were more likely to feel energized and excited at the beginning. You may find yourself comparing your relationship to others, or looking for signs that your bond is still strong. All of these concerns may be valid, and it’s normal for people to ponder these questions to a degree.
However, if you find that your fears about being sleepy with a partner are becoming all-consuming, and if they’re accompanied by an intense need for certainty or reassurance about your feelings or relationship, it’s worth considering whether you might be dealing with an underlying condition like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
People who have OCD deal with obsessions, which are intrusive thoughts, doubts, urges, sensations and/or feelings that bring up huge levels of fear and anxiety. Many people with OCD can’t move forward from these worries, and turn to repetitive and ritualistic actions or mental behaviors called compulsions as a way to temporarily alleviate their anxiety or to prevent something bad from happening.
In this specific case, it’s possible that your worries and doubts about feeling sleepy with your partner might be indicative of a specific subtype of OCD called Relationship OCD (or ROCD). As the name suggests, people who have ROCD deal with obsessions and compulsions related to their relationships. They might juggle with fears and questions about whether their feelings toward their partner are normal, if they’re in the right relationship, or if their partner is satisfied.
Again, many people find themselves questioning their relationships from time to time, but people with ROCD have a very hard time moving forward from those questions even after talking it through with their partner, doing some soul-searching, or even finding no real evidence that there’s something wrong with their relationship. They might engage in compulsions like ruminating over their relationship, seeking reassurance from their partners or other loved ones, or comparing their relationship with other relationships they see in the media or real life in an attempt to find answers. In fact, excessively researching online for answers to your doubts and worries is an extremely common compulsion for people with ROCD.
Why you’re so worried about being sleepy around your partner
The thing about OCD is that it often targets the things that you care about most. As a result, if you’re in a relationship with someone you love and value, your OCD might make you look for signs to the contrary, hence the intense fear and anxiety. So then, when things happen in your relationship that are by all other accounts “normal,” like feeling comfortable or sleepy, ROCD could make you read into it and wonder if it’s a sign about your relationship.
“OCD can take something really innocuous, like sleepiness, and try to insert meaning into it,” explains Kilduff. “I can see OCD coming in with the idea that you should be awake and excited to be around your partner. It might say, ‘If you’re sleepy around your partner, does that mean that you’re bored with them? Does that mean that this isn’t the right partner or the right relationship?’ Based on how I know OCD likes to operate, I can see it trying to twist that situation and make it into a ‘danger sign’ about the relationship when it’s really not.”
ROCD doesn’t only make you compare your relationships to other relationships you see—it can also make you bring up comparisons about how your own relationship was at a different point in time, especially in the very beginning.
Kilduff says that many of the clients she’s seen who struggle with ROCD find themselves comparing their current relationship circumstances with how it was in the initial “honeymoon phase.” Generally, the beginning of a relationship tends to feel much more exciting, especially since it’s so fresh and there’s so much to learn about the other person. After a while, when you get to know that person better and are more comfortable being around them, that initial level of excitement wears off. Someone with ROCD might become worried that they are no longer in that honeymoon phase and juggle with questions about whether it means that the relationship is coming to an end, or that the spark is gone.
The truth, though, is that this happens in just about every normal long-term relationship. It’s even a good thing, since it means you’re building a level of comfort and trust that is important to have with a long-term partner.
How can you get help?
Struggling with fears about your relationship is never fun, but it’s even harder if you just can’t quite seem to stop fixating on what little things (even normal things like sleepiness) mean in the context of your relationship. If you’re dealing with this and suspect that it might be linked to OCD, the good news is that there is effective help out there in the form of exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy.
ERP is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that is considered the most successful form of treatment for OCD. Unlike traditional talk therapy, which can backfire and make OCD worse, ERP has been proven to be highly effective in the majority of patients with OCD.
ERP involves repeated exposure to the thoughts that bring them the most fear without giving in to the short-term relief experienced by performing compulsions. To understand how ERP works, we can look at an example of how a therapist might approach it if you were dealing with ROCD-related fears of feeling sleepy around your partner. Kilduff says that in this case, therapy exercises might include making up a “worst-case scenario” about your relationship as a way to face your deepest fears about your relationship. Your therapist may also do a thought exposure, where you sit and look objectively into the fear and thoughts surrounding being sleepy with your partner. (Like: “I may or may not be with the wrong person if I’m sleepy around them. I just can’t know for sure.”)
Finally, ERP also involves helping people resist the compulsions that accompany those intrusive thoughts. Kilduff explains, “If they have any compulsions where they’re trying to do things to stay awake, we would start to pull back on some of those compulsions and let them be in that physical state of sleepiness around a partner.”
Ultimately, ERP is about taking the power away from those intrusive thoughts and breaking out of the cycle of obsessions and compulsions. It’s not about stopping the thoughts altogether or making them go away, since OCD isn’t a disorder that you can hide from. It’s about helping you realize that there is nothing to fear from the thoughts themselves.
If ERP sounds scary, it’s important to note that the process is never determined by the therapist alone. You get the power to rank your own fears and triggers, and then your therapist works with you to face the least distressing fears first before working up to the bigger ones so you never have to start with a situation that is too overwhelming. You may also find comfort in knowing that some people see the positive effects of ERP in a matter of weeks.